Is Resolution Close in Northern Iraq’s Pipeline War?

Andrew McGregor

April 18, 2014

Baghdad is worried about the political and economic consequences that could follow energy sales conducted independently of the central government, which insists it still has the right to control all Iraqi oil sales and the distribution of energy revenues according to the Iraqi constitution. The administration of Kurdish northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), interprets the constitution differently, claiming it has the right to sell oil without the consent of the central government in Baghdad. According to Iraqi deputy prime minister Hussein al-Shahristani, “The most prominent challenge is that we have not reached a national agreement to extract and market oil from all of Iraq’s territory… We have a grey area – we do not know how much oil the [Kurdistan] region is extracting, what price they are selling at and where the revenue goes” (Fars News Agency [Tehran], April 14). With the KRG now pumping oil directly to Turkey through a converted gas pipeline and the central government withholding budget transfers to the north, there is still some optimism that Baghdad and Erbil will come to a mutually profitable agreement to avoid economic and political collapse.

Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is determined to assert Baghdad’s control over national oil revenues and is resolutely opposed to Kurdish attempts to make their own deals with foreign consumers like Turkey (al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 8). To enforce the central government’s role, al-Maliki’s government suspended Kurdistan’s annual budget allocation – a loss of billions of dollars to a government that may be pumping oil, but is not yet making any money from it due to Baghdad’s threats to launch legal action against anyone purchasing oil it considers to have been “smuggled” from Iraq.

After signing six energy contracts with Turkey in December, KRG authorities opened the flow of crude oil through a new pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in late December 2013 (Xinhua, January 2). Shipping 300,000 bpd through the pipeline to start, the oil is being stored for now at the Ceyhan terminal rather than being sold and shipped abroad as Turkey refuses to allow its sale without Baghdad’s approval.

Genel Energy Operations in Northern Iraq

The new pipeline (actually a converted natural gas pipeline) connects the Taq Taq oilfield operated by Anglo-Turkish Genel Energy to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline at the Fishkabur pumping station near the Kurdish border, thus bypassing the regions affected by sabotage on the Baghdad-controlled Kirkuk-Ceyhan line and enabling the KRG to stop the piecemeal export of oil by tanker truck (Reuters, April 17). The KRG announced plans in October 2013 to build a second pipeline to Turkey within two years that will ship a million bpd to Turkey (Bloomberg, November 8).

Turkey has proposed that revenues from the sale of oil shipped through this proposed pipeline and the existing pipeline that opened in January be handled by a Turkish state bank that will distribute funds according to the formula in the Iraqi constitution that calls for an 83 percent share to Iraq’s central government and a 17 percent share to the KRG (Xinhua, January 2; Rudaw, February 12, 2013). Turkey has emphasized its wish to conduct all such dealings with transparency, but Baghdad still favors full control over oil exports with revenues being deposited to the Development Fund for Iraq account in New York, as is the current practice. Ankara’s role in allowing shipments of Kurdistan-sourced oil to Turkish facilities without the consent of the Baghdad government indicates Turkey’s eagerness to diversify its energy sources (particularly its strategically dangerous overreliance on Russian natural gas) and its intention of pursuing a deepening economic relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan that has both economic and security payoffs.

Baghdad’s suspension of government transfers to Kurdistan to punish its independent oil policy brought an angry response from KRG president Masoud Barzani earlier this month:

I consider depriving the Kurdistan Region of means of livelihood to be a declaration of war. It could be a crime that is worse and more dangerous than shelling Halabjah with chemical weapons. We will wait for the outcome of [U.S.] mediation, but I say for sure that the region will not remain silent on this measure if it continues and will not stand idly by. We have a program and a plan that we will implement (al-Hayat, April 5).

In a recent meeting with the head of the Democratic Socialist Group in the EU parliament, President Barzani maintained that the main problem in Iraq was not the oil issue or the failure to pass a national budget, but was rather Baghdad’s insistence on making the Kurds “followers” rather than “partners” (National Iraqi News Agency, April 7). Kurdistan’s economic security adviser, Biwa Khansi, warned that further delays in oil shipments to Turkey would “negatively affect economic relations between Iraq and Turkey” as well as threatening development projects and the ability to form a workable state budget (National Iraqi News Agency [Baghdad], April 12).

Oil flow through the main Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline ceased on March 2, when suspected Islamist militants blew up part of the line in the Ayn al-Jahash desert of northwestern Iraq, a region where anti-government Sunni militants are active. Since then, saboteurs have struck the line three more times and have mounted deadly attacks on repair crews sent to fix the damage (Hurriyet [Istanbul], April 1). Military escorts have failed to prevent such attacks and there is little reason to believe Iraqi claims that the pipeline will be back in action within days (Reuters, April 10). Controlled by the Iraqi central government, the Kirkuk to Ceyhan pipeline carries about 20% of Iraq’s total oil exports. Nineveh governor Ethel al-Nujaifi admitted that security forces in his governorate were “powerless” to provide the protection necessary to enable repair crews to bring the pipeline to Turkey back on-line (Zawya [Dubai], April 13). Baghdad is looking to export over one million bpd through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline by the end of the year and is also looking to build a new 200 kilometer pipeline to Turkey to help expand exports (al-Arabiya, April 9).

This article first appeared in the April 18, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

IRGC Commander Describes Iranian Victory over Kurdish Insurgents

Andrew McGregor

October 20, 2011

The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corp maintains that it was the Guards’ ability to confront Kurdish guerrillas on their own terms that led to an apparent defeat of the Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistane (Party of Free Life of Iranian Kurdistan – PJAK) after a three-month offensive.

IRGC Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jaffari

Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Mohammad Ali Jaffari suggested that PJAK had mistakenly believed that Iranian forces would use “classic warfare” tactics incapable of defeating guerrillas in the field: “The IRGC’s capability in both classic and asymmetric and guerrilla warfare surprised the PJAK terrorist group so much that they surrendered… Since the IRGC enjoys asymmetric and guerrilla warfare capability, in addition to its capability in classic wars, the PJAK group was encountered in its own method… and they realized that we have the ability to deploy troops and defeat everyone everywhere” (Fars News Agency, October 8; ISNA, October 8).

Following a series of border incursions by teams of PJAK fighters, Iran deployed a force of 5,000 IRGC troops and Border Guards to largely ethnic-Kurdish northwestern Iran, where they destroyed a PJAK base in the Jasosan Heights near Sar Dasht city in West Azerbaijan Province (Fars News Agency, September 26). The offensive halted for a month following a Ramadan ceasefire negotiated by northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), but operations resumed when it became clear PJAK had not used the break to withdraw to their bases in northern Iraq. The IRGC also claimed that PJAK had used the Ramadan ceasefire to dig tunnels in the Jasosan Heights along the border and to receive weapons and equipment supplied by the U.S. Consulate in Arbil (Fars News Agency, October 8).

After a number of battlefield setbacks that included the death of PJAK deputy commander Majid Kavian (a.k.a. Samakou Sarhaldan), PJAK unsuccessfully tried to have the ceasefire renewed, an impossibility so long as PJAK occupied Iranian territory (Sepah News, September 7). KRG president Masoud Barzani, wary of the possible implications of sending Kurds to secure the borders from other Kurds, instead urged both PJAK and their senior partner, the Parti Karkerani Kurdistan (Kurdistan Workers Party – PKK) to come to settlements with their respective Iranian and Turkish opponents (AFP, September 7).

By September 21, the IRGC was claiming to have killed over 180 PJAK fighters while driving the group out of northwestern Iran (Payvand Iran News, September 21). PJAK claimed to have killed 600 Iranian soldiers in its resistance to the Iranian offensive, a figure that has little basis in reality (AFP, September 15). The real figure is more likely in the dozens. Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said that PJAK had agreed to stay one kilometer away from the Iranian border but promised that Iranian forces would continue taking action against PJAK until the group was destroyed (Mehr News Agency, October 9).

Brigadier General Ali Shademani, Deputy Head of the Operations Department of the Iranian Armed Forces, told Iran’s official press that PJAK was a creation of the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel and would be replaced by these nations once it became clear PJAK would not succeed in its objectives (Press TV, September 29). PJAK in turn has accused the United States of providing intelligence about the Kurdish insurgents to Turkey which is then shared with the Iranians, though Ankara has denied passing on U.S. intelligence reports to Tehran (Rudaw.net, September 10).

murat karayilanMurat Karayilan (IMCTV)

Some Turkish media sources reported that the effective leader of the PKK, Murat Karayilan, was captured during Iranian operations in mid-August. The Iranians allegedly located the PKK commander by using intelligence provided by Turkey’s Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (National Intelligence Organization – MIT).  It is widely suspected in Turkey that Iran intervened to save Murat Karayilan from being killed by Turkish bombing by arresting and later releasing the PKK leader (Hurriyet, October 17). In this scenario it has been speculated that the PJAK withdrawal from its forward bases in Iran was the price of Karayilan’s freedom (Yeni Safak, October 12; Today’s Zaman, October 12; Hurriyet, October 11).

Karayilan affirmed that he was not under detention in Iran when he appeared on the PKK-affiliated Roj TV in early October, a declaration Iranian authorities supported by saying they had no information regarding the alleged arrest of Karayilan (Rudaw.net, October 18). Turkish authorities expressed satisfaction with Iran’s denials, saying Turks should “turn a blind eye” to the allegations while refuting a rumor that Karayilan had been captured by Syrian forces (Hurriyet October 14).

This article was first published in the October 20, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

PKK Commander Suggests Kurdish Alignment with Israel against Turkey

Andrew McGregor

October 4, 2010

KarayilanMurat Karayilan

PKK Commander Murat Karayilan compared the situation of Turkey’s Kurds to the Jewish Holocaust in a public appeal to Israel to ally itself with the radical Kurdish nationalist movement against the Turkish state. The appeal was made in a recent interview with an Israeli journalist that was later broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 Television (Haaretz, September 22):

More than any other people in the world, I would have expected Israel to understand and identify with us. After all, you, who have experienced the Holocaust, massacres, expulsions and persecution, now see our people, the Kurdish people, experiencing that same fate. Everyone in this area – Syrians, Turks and Iranians – wants and is trying to destroy us, and you, of all people, are the ones providing them with the weapons to destroy us.

Karayilan was interviewed at a secret hideout in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, close to the border with Iran. With PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan confined to a Turkish prison, Karayilan has emerged as the effective leader of the Kurdish cross-border insurgency. Ocalan was seized in Nairobi in 1999, allegedly by a team of Israeli Mossad agents who turned the PKK leader over to Turkish security services (Daily Nation [Nairobi], February 27). Since then, however, there has been a general belief in Turkey that Israel has provided arms and training to PKK and Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq. An Israeli commando team involved in training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq was forced to withdraw in 2005 after their presence was made public, but recent reports indicate Israeli military trainers have returned to the region (Yedioth Ahronoth, December 1, 2005; Ynet, December 1, 2005; Arutz Sheva, February 5; Today’s Zaman, June 9).

Despite this belief, one of the PKK commander’s main concerns was the supply of Israeli-made Heron class unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Turkish military. The UAVs have been highly effective in locating PKK positions in difficult terrain for targeting by Turkish forces (see Terrorism Focus Briefs, April 1, 2008). Karayilan remarked of the change in relations:

Once we were friends. In the 1960s and 1970s, Israel went out of its way to assist the Kurds. We admired you. But since the 1980s, from the moment you tightened your relationship, and your military cooperation, with Turkey, you have been considered here to be among those who systematically assist in our oppression and eradication… It is clear and natural to us that there should be relations between Israel and Turkey. Why not? But why should these relations come at our expense, at the expense of our lives? I wonder if Israelis are at all aware of the use that is made of the weapons and training they provide to Turkey.

Israel has not made an official statement on Karayilan’s interview, but an Israeli diplomat requesting anonymity told a Turkish daily, “The Israeli position is known and clear. We see the PKK as a terrorist organization and we support the Turkish fight against terror” (Today’s Zaman, September 22).

Despite what seemed to be a vicious public disagreement between Israel and Turkey following the May 31 Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza, diplomatic and military officials worked behind the scenes to ensure economic and military ties remained relatively undamaged by the feud (Hurriyet, September 22; see Terrorism Monitor Briefs,  June 12). Karayilan, however, attempted to exploit the rift:

More than any other Turkish head of state, this prime minister, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, openly shows how he is tightening relations with Hezbollah and Syria. He hugs [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and praises Hamas. Are you sure this is your friend?

An important ministerial summit between Turkey and Syria is scheduled for October 2-3, with terrorism expected to be one of the principal topics of discussion. Turkey is intent on improving economic relations with Syria and has already received Syrian support on the PKK issue (Hurriyet, September 28). However, the May 31 incident brought an abrupt end to Turkish efforts to mediate between Syria and Israel. Turkish interior minister Besir Atalay is also expected to meet soon with his counterparts in Syria and Iran to discuss the PKK threat.

Only a few days before Karayilan’s interview was broadcast, three PKK members were reported arrested in the port city of Jounieh by Lebanon’s Military Intelligence on charges of spying for Israel (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, September 23). Lebanon has arrested over 70 people on suspicion of spying for Israel since April 2009 (AFP, September 24).

This article first appeared in the October 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Turks Suspect Israeli Role in PKK Attack on Naval Base at Iskenderun

Andrew McGregor

June 12, 2010

Hours before the deadly Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara and other ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, an assault on Turkey’s Iskenderun Naval Base left seven servicemen killed and six injured (Firat, May 31; Today’s Zaman, June 6). Though earlier reports indicated the attack was on the naval installation, Hatay Governor Mehmet Celalettin Lekesiz said later that PKK members fired on a military vehicle carrying troops to sentry posts with RPG-7 grenade launchers and “long-range weapons” (TurkishPress.com, May 31). Iskenderun Naval Base is located in the Hatay province of southern Turkey on the northeast coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The base hosts the largest of Turkey’s three naval training centers. Iskenderun is well outside the usual range of PKK military attacks, though the group has carried out terrorist bombings throughout Turkey.

IskenderunThe deadly attack at Iskenderun came shortly after midnight, on the morning of May 31. A few hours later, Israeli commandos boarded six ships carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza in international waters, killing nine and injuring dozens more. All of the casualties were Turks, and the news of the event sparked large protests throughout the nation. Inevitably, news of the fatal attack on Iskenderun looked to many Turks like two sides of the same coin. The feeling was reflected at top levels across the political board; AKP Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik remarked, “We do not think that it is a coincidence that these two attacks took place at the same time” (Today’s Zaman, June 2). After expressing regret over the losses at Iskenderun, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu stated, “At a time when the Israeli army continues military operations, it is meaningful that such an incident took place in Turkey” (Today’s Zaman, June 2). Turkish intelligence agencies are reported to be investigating any links between the raid on the flotilla and the attack on the naval base (Today’s Zaman, June 6). Funerals of the dead servicemen across Turkey were attended by prominent government officials and large numbers of mourners carrying flags and shouting slogans (Hurriyet, June 1).

Turkey’s top military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 2 to discuss the two incidents. Following the meeting, Interior Minister Besir Atalay was cautious in his remarks, remarking, “I don’t want to say [these incidents] are related. Such investigations require close attention and we want to refrain from careless statements lacking tangibility… These subjects are delicate, especially when they have international dimensions” (Hurriyet, June 2; Today’s Zaman, June 3).

Many in Turkey’s government and military recall revelations of former Israeli commandos training Kurdish airport security and members of the Kurdish peshmerga militia prior to 2005, when political questions over their apparently illegal status in northern Iraq forced them to withdraw (Yedioth Ahronoth, December 1, 2005; Ynet, December 1, 2005). The men were employed by Kudo, a private security company run by Shlomi Michaels, a business associate of former Mossad chief and previous Kudo partner Danny Yatom. In recent months there have been reports that the Israeli military trainers have returned and resumed training of elite Kurdish military forces (Arutz Sheva, February 5; Today’s Zaman, June 9).

Sedat Laciner, head of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization and a prominent commentator on Turkish security issues, noted that the Iskenderun attack was not typical of PKK operations. He suggested the PKK was acting as a “subcontractor” to Israel and was supported by ex-members of Mossad or the Israeli military. “It is normal that the PKK is trying to ally with Turkey’s enemies at this level… Israel also wants to show the ruling party of Turkey as something equal to Hamas. Israel wants to create such a bias in minds” (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, May 31). Other analysts pointed out that the apparent vulnerability of the Iskenderun region was of concern, given the concentration of new coal-fired and natural gas power plants in the area (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, June 5).

In Jerusalem, Mossad Chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset that Turkey was forming a new anti-Israel coalition with Syria and Iran as part of the AKP’s aim of restoring Turkish power in the Middle East. Dagan said President Erdogan has “a dream of returning Turkey’s dominance through going down the Islamic hall. He believes that through Hamas and Palestinians, additional doors will be opened for him in the Arab street” (Jerusalem Post, June 2).

Though the rhetoric on both sides is heated, there are signs that pragmatism will win the day. Turkey canceled three joint military exercises with Israel after the flotilla attack, but Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said Turkey still expects delivery of four Israeli-made Heron unmanned aerial vehicles, part of a $190 million purchase of ten Heron UAVs. Other ongoing defense programs worth hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to continue (Hurriyet, June 3; World Tribune, June 2). Meanwhile, Turkish troops are reported to have taken losses in firefights with PKK fighters in southeastern Turkey’s Hakkari and Siirt provinces as the Kurdish rebel movement ends its ceasefire (Anatolia, June 1).

 

Struggling al-Mustafa Army Pledges Kurds Will Take Ninawa Province “Over Our Dead Bodies”

Andrew McGregor

May 26, 2009

A spokesman for Iraq’s Jaysh al-Mustafa (Mustafa Army) used an internet question and answer session to admit setbacks but vowed to prevent the Kurdish takeover of the northern Iraqi province of Ninawa (Nineveh), the main base of the Sunni militant group (Media Commission of the Al-Mustafa Army in Iraq, May 15).

al-Mustafa ArmyAccording to the spokesman, Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Iraqi, the group was formed in Ninawa Governate two months after the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. At first they operated under the name “al-Fatihin Army” during their earliest operations in Mosul. In time, the group expanded to Salah al-Din Governate and even into the outskirts of Baghdad. This continued until April 2004, when “occupation forces broke into our locations and arrested our most prominent leaders.” After this serious setback, the group slowly recovered and today consists of 12 “brigades,” though only four of these are operational due to “poor resources and lack of funding.”  Shaykh Abu-Abdallah al-Ansari is the Amir of the Al-Mustafa Army in Iraq.

Abu Abd al-Rahman also attributed the lack of internet videos depicting al-Mustafa Army operations to “weak financial capabilities” and “the geographical nature of the city Mosul,” though the latter point was not explained. The Mustafa Army relies on “the charitable people in Ninawa Governorate” for their funding, though these contributions have declined dramatically after threats were made to those funding the group. This has resulted in a decrease in the number of operations. Al-Mustafa Army supports the use of martyrdom operations (suicide bombings), but has not conducted any due to a “lack of assets.” Despite this, Abu Abd al-Rahman insists the jihad in Iraq is mandatory for every man, woman and child.

Admission of new fighters is made on the recommendation of a trusted person or a mosque cleric. Recruits must meet certain requirements regarding religious observance, good manners, etc. Abu Abd al-Rahman denies that foreign fighters are in the ranks of al-Mustafa Army. “In fact, we have not received any admission request from expatriate brothers, but we do not deny their fraternity and we are grateful to them.” The group claims to have Kurds as well as Arabs as fighters and leaders.

Abu Abd al-Rahman commented on al-Mustafa’s relations with a number of other Iraqi armed groups:

• Army of Men of the Naqshabandi Order (a Sufi militant group): Al-Mustafa Army has good relations with this group and is ready to cooperate with them in all jihad activities.

• Gaza Martyrs Brigade: Three individuals broke from al-Mustafa two months ago and have since formed this group. “We wish them success, but we confirm there has not been any split in the group.”

• The Shi’a:  Al-Mustafa Army has “no relations” with the Shi’a public and the group does not fight them. However, the group considers the “Persian Safavids” (a reference to Shi’a militias) to be their enemies.

• Ba’athists:  Abu Abd al-Rahman denies the Mustafa Army is composed of Ba’athists, saying these are rumors designed to undermine the group, though it “does not belittle” the Ba’athists.

• The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI – al-Qaeda affiliated):  The group has good relations with ISI and has worked with several of its field commanders in the past.

• The Sahwa (Awakening) Councils:  These individuals have made mistakes by joining with the occupation forces, but the “door of repentance” remains open for them.

Though the group has suffered from security round-ups and financial shortfalls, it is still determined to resist efforts by the Kurdish Regional Government of northern Iraq and its peshmerga militias to annex parts of Ninawa like Sinjar, Rabi’ah and the Ninawa plain. “We have future plans to anticipate events and pre-empt any attempt to tear up the governate of Ninawa, which will have to be over our dead bodies…”

This article was first published in the May 26, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Iraq-Based Komala Party Describes the Struggle for Iranian Kurdistan

Andrew McGregor

April 24, 2009

The leader of an armed Kurdish-Iranian opposition group recently described his group’s continuing struggle for an autonomous Iranian Kurdistan and his views on the future of the Islamist Shi’a regime in Tehran. Details were provided in an interview with Abdullah Mohtadi, the secretary-general of the Komala Party (the short form for the group’s full name, Komalay Shoreshgeri Zahmatkeshani Kurdistani Iran – The Revolutionary Organization of the Toilers of Kurdistan), who spoke from al-Sulaymaniya in Kurdish northern Iraq (al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 1).

Komala 1Iraqi Kurdistan (UNPO)

The party was formed in 1969 by Ibrahim Alizadeh to promote an autonomous status for the Kurdish community in Iran. The group took up arms in 1979 as one of a number of leftist groups to oppose the Shah. Since then it has focused on creating an autonomous Kurdish region based on the northwestern Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Ilam, Kermanshan and Western Azerbaijan, all of which have significant Kurdish populations, as well as Assyrian and Armenian minorities. The four provinces roughly cover the area included in the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad (1946).

Komala was driven out of Iran and into Iraq in 1983, where they were initially greeted coldly by the Ba’athist regime, though they were later accepted by Baghdad as a card that could be played against Iran. This did not prevent the group from being attacked with artillery and poison gas during Saddam’s anti-Kurdish Anfal campaign in 1988-89. Today Komala has split into a smaller Communist faction intent on preserving the group’s original Marxist-Leninist orientation and a larger and more moderate socialist faction led by Abdullah Mohtadi.

Inside Iran, the party led a brief rebellion in the largely Kurdish city of Mahabad in 2005 but backed down when it realized the revolt was incapable of toppling the regime and would only bring heavy reprisals (Jerusalem Post, August 23, 2007). As a result of this experience, the movement remains an armed force but concentrates on political activities. Estimates of the number of available fighters range from 200 to 1,000. Komala fighters and officials are based in the Kara Dagh mountains outside the Kurdish city of al-Sulaymaniya in northern Iraq.

Secretary General Mohtadi views the creation of a “Greater Kurdistan” or even secession from Iran as “unrealistic,” preferring the establishment of a “democratic, secular, federal Iran” (komala.org, July 3, 2007). The party blames Tehran for a host of ills in Iranian Kurdistan, including “the military occupation of Kurdistan, widespread poverty… the suppression of Kurdish culture, drug addiction, religious suppression, forced migration, imprisonment, terror, torture, and the killing of whoever opposes these tyrannical policies” (komala.org).

Komala 2Abdullah Mohtadi with Komala Guerrillas

While Mohtadi urged Komala splinter groups to return to the mainstream party during the al-Sharq al-Aswsat interview, he also condemned the activities of the better-known Parti bo Jiyani Azadi la Kurdistan (Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan – PJAK); “PJAK is the other face of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party]. It is not an independent party and was not established by the true Kurdish people in Iran. It does not serve the interests of the Kurdish liberation movement…”

Mohtadi opposes the methods and objectives of his fellow leftists in the PKK:

“The problem with the PKK… I mean, the Kurdish toilers have every right to fight for their rights and their freedom. But the PKK as an organization is not reliable. They are very fanatic in their nationalism. They are very undemocratic in nature. They have no principles. I mean, they can deal with Satan. They can fight the Kurds… They have fought the Kurds much more than they have fought the Turks. When you study the history of the PKK, you find out that they have been against every single Kurdish movement in every part of Kurdistan. At the same time they have had good friendly relations with all the states where the Kurds live, where the oppressed live” (komala.org, July 3, 2007).

Komala demanded the overthrow of the Tehran regime in a 2006 manifesto signed by two other Kurdish-Iranian groups, but Mohtadi says the movement no longer wishes to “repeat the Iraqi scenario in Iran by overthrowing the regime.” The Komala leader views the Iraqi decision to expel the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) with some alarm, not through any common ideology or objectives, but as a possible precursor to the expulsion of the Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups based in northern Iraq. Mohtadi used the interview to remind Baghdad of the strategic importance of these groups; “The Kurdish forces constitute huge pressure cards against Iran. If these cards are lost, the Iraqi government will not have anything with which to bargain with Iran.” When the Iranian regime “inevitably” collapses, the Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups will have a strong presence on the ground.

Mohtadi maintains that the Iranian reformers led by former President Mohammad Khatami have little chance of taking power after the coming elections in Iran because of the support the current regime has from the armed forces, the Revolutionary Guards, the Basiji paramilitary and the intelligence and security services.

 

This article first appeared in the April 24, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Turkey Planning to Eliminate Kurdish PKK Insurgents in the Coming Year

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Turkey’s leading politicians and security officials gathered at the Prime Minister’s residence on September 11 to discuss approaches for Turkey’s ongoing struggle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK). Despite a long summer of small-scale attacks on Turkish security forces in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey and a series of deadly urban bombings carried out by the PKK or their allies, there is a belief at the highest levels of Turkey’s decision-makers that the PKK has been substantially weakened by military strikes against its infrastructure in northern Iraq and may be ready for a death blow to be delivered by Turkish forces in the coming year.

Basbug 3General Ilker Basbug

The meeting was chaired by Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan and was attended by new chief-of-staff of the Turkish Armed Forces (Turk Silahlı Kuvvetleri –TSK) General Ilker Basbug, Land Forces commander General Isik Kosaner, Gendarmerie commander General Atila Isik, National Police Chief Oguz Kagan Koksal, National Intelligence Organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati – MIT) undersecretary Emre Taner, and the government’s most important cabinet ministers (Hurriyet, September 11; Today’s Zaman, September 12).

While the security summit discussed various military options, including further large-scale incursions across the border with Iraq to attack PKK bases there, participants also looked at various economic, social, and legal options to suppress militant separatist activity within Turkey’s Kurdish population.

Intelligence reports prepared for the meeting by the General Staff, the Gendarmerie Command, and the MIT interpreted the recent rash of urban bombings as a sign of the PKK’s diminished ability to mount more conventional guerrilla operations in southeastern Turkey. According to a statement released after the security summit, “the duration of this fight against the separatist terrorist organization [a government euphemism for the PKK], which is close to the breaking point, is growing shorter” (Today’s Zaman, September 13).

Statistics provided in documentation prepared for the meeting showed the intensification of Ankara’s war with the PKK. 87 Turkish soldiers were killed in combat with the PKK in 2006, 114 in 2007 and 178 in the first six months alone of 2008. These losses, however, are still far smaller than figures from the 1990s, as are the total number of armed encounters with PKK fighters. Turkish figures for PKK losses revealed 250 militants killed so far this year during cross-border operations into northern Iraq, with another 514 killed inside Turkey. An additional 222 PKK fighters either surrendered or were captured by Turkish security forces from January to August this year (Today’s Zaman, September 13; Turkish Daily News, September 17).

Regional development projects such as the $12 billion Southeastern Anatolia Project (Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi – GAP) were an important part of the discussions as a means of addressing the chronic unemployment problem of southeastern Turkey, which helps feed a steady stream of recruits to the PKK bases. Covering nine provinces that currently see high levels of PKK activity, GAP is intended to raise living standards and resolve issues of economic disparity with the rest of Turkey. The construction of dams, irrigation schemes, new airports, power plants and other infrastructure is now underway in the much delayed project, first planned in the 1970s. Besides its regional goals, the massive development scheme is also expected to aid Turkey’s integration into the European Union (gap.gov.tr).

PKK MilitantsPKK Militants in Diyarbakir

Efforts are currently underway to identify places where PKK militants might prepare winter shelters as bases for terrorist attacks inside Turkey’s urban areas. Only two days after the summit, the TSK General Staff declared the provinces of Sirnak, Siirt, Batman, Van and Hakkari to be Temporary Security Zones for the next three months. The designation gives Turkish security forces extraordinary powers to prevent the establishment of PKK bases and supply routes through the mountainous and often lightly populated regions of the five provinces.

When Turkey’s parliament resumes sessions on October 1, the government is expected to ask for approval for a one-year extension to the current mandate allowing cross-border strikes into northern Iraq, which expires on October 17. With the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) controlling 341 of the assembly’s 550 seats, the resolution is expected to pass easily. The AKP is reported to be disappointed in the failure of Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq to take action against PKK personnel in the area. Turkey’s opposition Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi – MHP) has suggested it will vote in favor of the motion but accuses the AKP of being ineffective in dealing with PKK terrorism due to its desire to win ethnic Kurdish support away from the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (Demokratik Toplum Partisi – DTP) in upcoming regional elections (Hurriyet, September 12; NTV, September 16).

The improved regime of intelligence cooperation with the United States will continue to play a major role in Turkey’s offensive against the PKK. On the same day as the summit in Ankara, the U.S. State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism, Dell Dailey, declared Turkey and the United States “have intelligence sharing comparable to no other cooperation among other world states” (Hurriyet, September 11). Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Turkey only days after the security summit for talks with President Abdullah Gul and General Basbug. Admiral Mullen pledged continued U.S. backing for Turkish operations, noting: “The operations that the U.S. supported were very effective last year” (Today’s Zaman, September 16).

In the days prior to the security summit in Ankara, General Basbug made a visit to Diyarbakir, the chief city in the ethnic Kurdish southeast. Surprisingly, his focus was on the economic rather than security aspects of the campaign to end separatist violence in the region. In a meeting with the region’s major employers and NGOs, Basbug solicited ideas for offering young people in the area alternatives to militancy while stating that he would be keeping a close eye on the progress of the GAP initiative (Bianet.org, September 5; Vatan, September 13). The General stressed the need for vocational education for young men in the region as well as greater educational opportunities for women and children. Displaying a personal touch previously unknown in the usually reserved General Staff, Basbug then made a visit to the nearby city of Van, where he crossed security barriers to meet and converse with local people who had come out for the occasion. Widely cheered for the unexpected gesture, the General commented afterward, “This is the first time that I’ve witnessed our citizens’ respect and love for our armed forces at this level. These are decent citizens. That’s it. I will not forget this experience for the rest of my life” (Today’s Zaman, September 6).

Several days after the security summit, General Basbug held a “communication meeting” with the editors and Ankara correspondents of a number of Turkish newspapers, though the representatives of several other newspapers were pointedly excluded. Indicating what seemed to be a new willingness on the part of the General Staff to open a media front in the war against the PKK, Basbug promised weekly press briefings and round-the-clock access to a TSK spokesman. The new chief-of-staff expressed his desire that the TSK should not be dragged into political debates, an apparent shift from the General Staff’s previous willingness to insert itself into all manner of internal political matters. Basbug also warned against the publication of secret military documents, after several notable instances of such documents appearing in the pages of pro-government newspapers. Efforts to persuade senior military staff to leak information would no longer be tolerated (Turkish Daily News, September 17). On the PKK front, General Basbug suggested that the organization was unable to draw more recruits today than it did in 1990, but the PKK was now drawing heavily on Syria, Iran and European countries for new ethnic-Kurdish recruits. According to Basbug, one-third of the PKK is now Syrian in origin (Bianet.org, September 16; Turkish Daily News, September 17).

In the meantime the TSK continues to harass the PKK’s own cross-border operations. Officials of Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party announced on September 14 that Turkish artillery had shelled fourteen border villages in northern Iraq the same day (PUKmedia, September 14). General Basbug warned a week earlier that the Turkish military was ready to launch strikes in any kind of weather after the success of last February’s cross-border winter operations; “The message has been taken from Operation Gunes” (Today’s Zaman, September 6). General Basbug also made it clear the TSK will not allow this perceived opportunity to eliminate the PKK to slip away through a narrow focus on military options: “The PKK is heading towards a breaking point. What is important is how we will make use of it…. The organization has been in this situation before, but we made mistakes” (AFP, September 17).

This article first appeared in the October 1, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Controversial Security Chief of Iraq’s Kurdish Enclave Discusses War on Terrorism

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Masrur Barzani, the 39-year-old chief of Asayish, the leading security and intelligence service of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), gave a rare interview earlier this month (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 13). As the oldest son of KRG President Masud Barzani and cousin of KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the American-educated Masrur is centrally placed in the KRG’s hierarchy and is often touted as a possible successor to his father as president. Masrur insists his appointment was based solely on merit.

Kurds 1Masrur Barzani

Masrur described the continuing efforts to unify Kurdistan’s various intelligence agencies under a single legal framework. The main intelligence agency of Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the Parastin (“Protection”), while Jamal al-Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) operates the Dazgay Zanyari (“The Information Apparatus”). Both parties also maintain a number of smaller intelligence agencies.

After achieving de facto sovereignty in 1991, Kurdish authorities created Asayish in 1993 as a means of unifying the separate intelligence services under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. In practice the PUK and KDP ran separate Asayish organizations out of Sulaimaniyah and Irbil, respectively. This situation continued until 2004 when efforts began once again to unify operations, undoubtedly in response to the increased threat of terrorist attacks in the north following the American invasion of Iraq.

Responding to suggestions that Asayish receives training from the CIA and Israel’s Mossad, Masrur stated: “Frankly, if you want the whole truth from me, this news is totally untrue.” Masrur cites al-Qaeda, the Kurdish Ansar al-Islam, and the mixed Kurdish-Arab Ansar al-Sunnah as the main terrorist threats in northern Iraq. According to Masrur, Kurdish intelligence has operated against terrorist formations in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul “in coordination with Baghdad, not on our own initiative.” They have also acted against spies from “neighboring countries.” In the past, this has usually referred to Turkey, Syria, and Iran, each of which host Kurdish minority populations.

On the dispute between the KRG and Baghdad over the status of the town of Khanaqin, Masrur stated: “The Iraqi Army’s entry was not for the purpose of combating terrorism, for Khanaqin is very secure. The army entered for political reasons… Khanaqin is the most secure area in the Diyala Governorate. Saddam Hussein’s regime tried for many years to seize these areas by force but failed. Now, attempts are being made to take these areas from us by other means.”

Kurds 2Kamal Sayid Qadir

Kamal Sayid Qadir, an ethnic Kurdish law professor with Austrian citizenship, has emerged as Masrur Barzani’s personal nemesis. In October 2005, Qadir was arrested in Kurdistan and sentenced to 30 years in prison for “disgracing the Kurdish leadership… inappropriate articles… and cursing the Barzani tribe.” In a retrial a month later the sentence was reduced to 18 months. Following foreign appeals on his behalf, Qadir was pardoned and released a week later, but continued his attacks on the Barzanis (Uruknet.info, August 17). In December 2006, Qadir filed a lawsuit in Austria charging Masrur Barzani and four other members of the KRG and Kurdish intelligence services with kidnapping and torture (eKurd.net, December 28, 2006). Last February, Masrur and five of his bodyguards were arrested in Austria after Qadir was beaten and shot in the streets of Vienna (aljeeran.net, February 20; Kurdistan Post, February 20; Kurdish Aspect, February 26).

Though some human rights groups have portrayed Qadir as a righteous victim of a regime determined to suppress legitimate criticism, Qadir has frequently strayed from critiques of KRG corruption to make personal attacks on KRG leaders. In a culture highly sensitive to personal insult, Qadir has accused members of the Barzani clan of frequenting Russian prostitutes, referred to one clan member as a “homosexual” and publicly described Masrur Barzani as a “pimp.” His efforts to expose the Barzanis as KGB agents have also failed to win him any friends in the KRG (antiwar.com, August 31, 2005; Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2007). In a 2006 interview, Qadir acknowledged that some of his language was inappropriate, adding: “I want to mention that the gentlemen of the Asayish in Irbil said they did not want to prohibit me from writing, but that the thing they do not want me to do is to use words that I have used in some articles” (RFE/RL, March 7, 2006).

Masrur was not questioned directly about the Qadir case in the interview, but in denying reports of security service responsibility for the murders of a number of journalists, he noted “There are writers and journalists who can tell the difference between freedom of expression and assaults on others. There are some who cannot tell the difference and think that whatever they write falls under the heading of freedom of the press even if it slanders others.”

 

This article first appeared in the September 24, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

PKK’s Cemil Bayik Evaluates State of the Kurdish Insurgency

Andrew McGregor

August 12, 2008

Cemil Bayik, a leading member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK), gave a lengthy interview to a Kurdish news agency on the current state of the PKK’s insurgency against the Turkish government (Firat News Agency, July 29, 30; Yeni Ozgur Politika [Neu-Isenburg], August 5).

Cemil BayikCemil Bayik

Together with alleged rival Murat Karayilan and military commander Fehman Hussein (a.k.a. Bahoz Erdal), Bayik is one of the PKK’s core leaders in the absence of the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan. Under increasing pressure from the Turkish military in northern Iraq, Bayik was reported to have escaped across the border to Iran in May, where his small group was attacked by Iranian troops (Today’s Zaman, May 22; see also Terrorism Focus, May 20). Bayik’s military skills and leadership were criticized by Abdullah Ocalan during his 1999 trial, with Ocalan suggesting Bayik preferred to remain behind the frontlines. Little has been heard from Bayik since his flight to Iran, though it appears he may have now returned to northern Iraq.

Bayik points to the “toughened” policies of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) towards the Kurdish people as proof the AKP is using the conflict to ingratiate itself with a civilian and military bureaucracy that was seeking to shut down the AKP. The PKK leader alleges a decision to pursue a military solution was made at a private meeting in June between General Ilker Basbug (who takes over as Chief of Staff this month) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Sabah, June 25). Nevertheless, “The PKK is powerful enough to dictate a solution to the Kurdish problem. A democratic solution could be possible if people and guerillas put up effective resistance.”

Regarding Ankara’s relations with Washington, Bayik charges Turkey with committing itself to U.S. policies in the region to earn American support against the PKK. The Turkish state “will resort to every possible method to create a dispute between us and the United States and political parties in Southern Kurdistan [northern Iraq] because experience it gained in the past decade showed it that it could not defeat Kurdish guerillas without external support.” Bayik seems to have regarded the United States as a potential ally in the past, alleging that U.S. authorities were in contact with the Iranian Kurdish wing of the PKK, the Party for Freedom in Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), which shares bases, equipment, and infrastructure with the PKK in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq (AFP, November 23, 2006). Reports of American weapons being delivered to PJAK camps in the Qandil Mountains threatened to sever U.S.-Turkish relations last year before a new pact was worked out on intelligence sharing and other co-operation against the PKK.

Bayik denies U.S. and EU charges that the PKK finances itself through drug trafficking in Europe, suggesting that it is the Turkish state that uses profits from the drug trade to finance its battle against the PKK. The U.S. turns a blind eye to this in order to increase its popularity in Turkey and use Ankara to further its regional policy (see Terrorism Monitor, June 12). Bayik also comments on Turkey’s “deep-state” Ergenekon conspiracy, suggesting that the arrests of retired generals and other suspects was only part of an attempt by the AKP to garner U.S. and EU approval.

The improving relations between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq are obviously worrisome for the PKK, whose bases are located in northern Iraq. Bayik cautions rather than condemns KRG leaders for recent remarks indicating an absence of support for the PKK’s struggle: “We cannot say that our relations with powers in South Kurdistan are not satisfactory… We are going through a period when more positive developments than negative ones could be witnessed from the standpoint of Kurdish people…We can say that the powers in South Kurdistan encourage Turkey by making wrongheaded statements.”

 

This article first appeared in the August 12, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus